By On April 15th, 2013

Helping Churches Prepare For Mental Health Support

Mental health affects a huge portion of our population, and many of those suffering turn to their religious clergy rather than mental health professionals. Yet, churches don’t seem to be well equipped to properly counsel or even direct these individuals to proper treatment.

According to a recent study by Baylor University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Matthew Stanford, says that 27% of church-goers are experiencing mental health issues and only 5% of churches are responding with supportive care.

There are numerous reasons for this lack of support, but Mental Health Grace Alliance claims it doesn’t show a failure in the church. There are cultural stigmas, especially in more conservative denominations, against mental illness, and especially against psychiatry or medication.

More often that not however, many churches and their leaders simply feel they can’t afford the resources to start a strong mental health ministry. What they don’t realize is that you don’t have to devote huge amounts of funds to revamping your churches focus or creating a mental health support institution or ministry.

Church elders can improve their support for members of their congregation dealing with mental illness with just a few steps. As always, I’m a proponent of an education first approach. Pastors and other church leaders should be stepping up to learn how to identify the signs of struggling church members. There are numerous resources available to help leaders learn how to identify those who need help, as well as the Kessler 6, a helpful 6 question test which indicates when a person needs more constructive and professional care.

Once you have identified individuals possibly in need of help, religious leaders often think it is their job to help solve the issue with the word of God. While religious texts have strong supportive and healing messages, often it is more important for leaders to exhibit support, and help direct people to mental health professionals trained to help in these cases. Often, there are these trained professionals already within the church. Just as strong churches can help low-income families find support, so can they help families dealing with mental health problems find treatment.

Churches with a solid mental health support system also have crisis support teams made of staff members to help in moments when there isn’t time to simply refer an individual to a counselor. Training for suicide prevention and crisis support is very easy, and there are organizations happy to provide the training if no one within the church has been educated in the area.

The church is seeing big changes in understandings of mental illness and treatment methods, so it is important to realize that the statistics from Baylor’s study indicate how much room we have to grow rather than portraying an uncaring or unhelpful church. Pastors, priests, and all other kinds of religious leaders are becoming more aware and concerned with helping their troubled congregation members.

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